Firefighter flashlights are one of the most important tools in the firefighter’s toolbox. I would highly recommend carrying multiple flashlights on your gear. I am going to explain some important considerations when choosing a flashlight.
Candelas and Lumens
Let’s talk about the most important function of the flashlight, the beam it produces. When looking at flashlights you will usually find two different ways that the brightness is rated: Candela and Lumens.
Lumens are the total light output. Let’s look at an ordinary household lightbulb to help me explain. The standard natural daylight LED light bulb that I just put in my kitchen ceiling produces 1250 lumens. You may be saying, wait a minute, my Streamlight Survivor only produces 140 lumens and it is way brighter than a household light. You would be correct; however, remember that lumens are the total output of the light. The Survivor produces a more focused beam that the standard ceiling light. All 140 lumens are contained in a single beam. The 1250 lumens produced by the ceiling light are spread out to light up the entire room.
Candela (cd) measures the intensity of the beam, how focused it is. A focused 140 lumen flashlight will have a much brighter beam and therefore more candela. A floodlight for example is going to have high lumens and low candela, and usually better battery life. Also, the beam of a light with higher candela (greater intensity) is going to travel further.
The lens and refractor also affect the beam type, but this gives you an overview of how lumens and candela work together.
Candlepower (CP) is an obsolete measurement but you may see it from time to time. Candlepower is equal to .981 candela.
You will often see flashlights meet certain requirements. Two of the common ratings you will see for flashlights designed for firefighting is NFPA-1971-8.6 and IPX-7. NFPA-1971-8.6 is the heat and thermal shrinkage resistance test. The item is baked in an oven for 5 minutes at 500 degrees F after which it is inspected. The item cannot melt, separate, ignite or shrink more than 10% in any direction. The IPX-7 rating means the item was submerged in 1 meter of water for 30 seconds without allowing in sufficient water to cause damage.
If you are already in the industry, you are probably familiar with this term. If something is intrinsically safe it means that it is incapable of producing enough energy to create an ignition source. Believe it or not, the thermal imaging cameras (TIC)s that we carry are not intrinsically safe. Intrinsic safety is not applicable to firefighters in most cases. When we are fighting a fire, ignition has already occurred and a small spark from an electronic device isn’t going to make a bit of a difference, but intrinsic safety is a nice feature to have.
Older flashlights used the familiar incandescent bulb. The problem with the incandescent bulb is that they burn out frequently and need to be replaced. LED bulbs can last in excess of 10,000 hours. LED bulbs are also generally brighter but some incandescent lights are capable of shining longer distances the LEDs.
Some other things to consider when purchasing a fire flashlight is the weight, profile, durability and price. Helmet lights can vary in in weights from a few ounces to almost a pound. One pound may not seem like a lot of weight, but trust me, every ounce counts when you are wearing your helmet for an extended period of time. There are a lot of flashlights that you could clip on your gear or strap on your helmet and go to work, but I would recommend using a flashlight designed for firefighting if you want it to last. Flashlight pricing can vary from around $20 to a few hundred.
The Helmet Mounted Flashlight
The firefighter helmet flashlight is the firefighter flashlight that I personally use the most. Some of the advantages of using a helmet flashlight is that it allows the firefighter to operate hand’s free and that the light is pointed in whichever direction you are facing.
Batteries used in helmet flashlights vary from compact batteries such as the CR123A to several AA batteries to rechargeable batteries.
The three common styles of helmet lights are the standard cylindrical flashlight as pictured above, the mini light that usually mounts to the brim of the helmet, and the headlamp style light. The cylindrical light is usually attached to the helmet with a band specifically made for that purpose or a band can be made out of inner tube. If using a headlamp style light, be sure to use a light designed for firefighting or the light will not likely hold up to firefighting conditions.
The Right Angle Flashlight
Another flashlight that is carried by firefighters is the right angle flashlight or the 90 degree flashlight. The right angle flashlight is usually clipped onto the turnout coat but also has a clip that makes it easy to attach to the belt. It is much easier to detach from the turnout gear than the fire helmet light. A right angle flashlight is heavier than a helmet flashlight and usually weighs around a pound. This type of light can also use a variety of batteries, from AA to larger rechargeable (but more expensive) batteries. This light is usually capable of producing a brighter beam than a helmet light.
The Box Light
The last light commonly carried by firefighters is the Box Light. These lights are much heavier than the helmet flashlight and the right angle flashlight usually weighing close to 2 pounds. Being a bigger light, comes with the advantages of producing large amounts of light, upwards of 600+ lumens. These lights are usually carried by a strap of some sort (with a recommended quick release) or can be clipped to the SCBA. Some versions of this light come with tail lights which I think is a cool feature. An advantage of this light being carried “detached” from your body is that the light can be left at a location to mark egress or a specific hazard. The box light can also be set in a room to act as a lantern while doing overhaul operations while waiting for flood lights to arrive.